Christmas is fast approaching, and unfortunately for many, with it comes a season of greed, a season of “I wants!” and “Gimmies!”, a season where we focus too much on materialistic things, and forget to be grateful for the blessings we have in our lives every day. I find this somewhat ironic since Christmas follows the holiday of Thanksgiving. And yet, Black Friday really says it all about the corporate and materialistic focus that has been put on Christmas, and in our every day lives.
Christmas also for many brings about a time of despair, which is sad, because Christmas is the celebration of the best thing to ever happen to our world. And yet for many, it points out all that is missing or wrong with their lives. It is also for many, a time of intense stress in many areas, including financial. It can be hard to get in the Christmas spirit, to feel joyous and grateful, when you’re not sure how you’re going to pay for the latest car repair, let alone buy Christmas presents, and decorations and food for a big meal.
And that, is what I really want to talk about today. Not Christmas, not materialism, but joy and gratitude in the face of the struggles of daily life.
To do this, I’m just going to lay myself bare – I have been through a lot in my life, starting as a child and continuing into my adulthood. I have faced everything from the separation of my parents, my father going to jail and losing our home, having a severely autistic sister, to abuse. As an adult I’ve faced having to deal with my child’s medical suffering, job loss, and now having two children with varying special needs. And I’ve survived. It’s made me stronger. And never, have I doubted God’s love.
And yet, I really struggle sometimes with discouragement. I’ve handled the big things, but it’s the little things that get me down: constant, unexpected repairs to the truck or car, house repairs (small and large!), sick days that cost us salary, etc… I get overwhelmed, and to be honest, frustrated at God. I feel like, “When is it going to be enough? When do I get a break in life? When is it my turn for things to go right?” Instead of turning to my faith, and remembering all the ways God has provided in our life, trusting that there is a greater plan at work, I quickly despair at yet another thing going wrong in my/our life. It doesn’t help that I have a grandmother who I’m close to, that is extremely negative, and tends to feed those feelings.
Also, when these things happen, it fills me with doubt, and makes me second guess my decision to be a stay at home mom, and to homeschool. I think, “If I were working, we’d have more money, we wouldn’t have to worry about how we going to pay for that new alternator (floor, toilet, insurance deductible etc…)”. This leads to thinking about how much faster we could pay down our debt. It just fills me with doubt on if I’m making the right decision.
But in that sentence, I’m forgetting something very important. I said “it fills me with doubt on if I’m making the right decision.” Doubt rarely leaves room for God. I realized awhile ago that when I despair, I’m forgetting God – even though I don’t realize it. It wasn’t solely my decision to stay home and homeschool. Rather, it was something I prayed hard about, that we discussed together in great detail, and that in the end, God led us to. Both through a series of events in our lives, but also through conviction. The saying, “If God leads you to it, God will lead you through it,” is such an amazing truth. God doesn’t lead you to anything in your life, without providing ways for you to get through it – whether it’s something as big as an illness, a death, a separation or something as “small” as car repairs. Whether it’s a job loss, or making the God-led choice to stay home.
Within the last while I’ve really been trying to work on my reaction to life’s curve balls. Because you know what, in the end – it is small stuff. While at times the little things can feel insurmountable, I only have to stop for a second and look around me, to think back through my life, and see the ways that God has provided, every single time. Also, I only have to look outwards, at other people I know, or at the media, to see how little I have suffered in comparison to others. Not that other people facing greater trials in any way takes away from what we endure personally, but a little dose of perspective never hurts, and can go a long ways towards a feeling of gratitude. I have been blessed in so many ways in my life, and God deserves nothing less than my gratitude for the ways he has provided, protected and rescued me. And so, I made a resolution, that when something happens and I was faced with the temptation to be discouraged, that I would immediately seek out something about the event to be grateful for, for there is always something.
I’ve also been praying for God to help me remain confident in my decisions, when facing these trials. Deep down, I know that I am where I need to be. Is it easy? No. It’s hard. We literally have $0.38 in our savings account right now. We live paycheck to paycheck, but month by month, that pile of debt we accrued in earlier years, is slowly shrinking. Month by month, miracle by financial miracle, we are able to face the financial upsets that life loves to throw at you. My children are being educated in a setting where the Lord is central – and I know that’s huge. We are learning so many lessons as a family about sacrifice and hard work, not to mention careful budgeting! And my daughter and son are able to be able to get their therapy at home, with their mother by their side, working with them as they overcomes their challenges. God has placed me here for a reason.
However, what we have to remember when we make resolutions like these – to remain positive, keep things in perspective and maintain gratitude in times of trial, is that we are sure to be tested. I should have seen it coming, there were signs after all. First it was starting a personal devotional about Gratitude, and one of the verses about about remaining joyful and grateful (for the two go hand in hand) during times of trial. Then, the first week of Thomas’ new devotional was about remembering that we are never alone, that God is always with us, especially during times of trial. I’ll bet you can see the theme… yet somehow it slipped right on by me.
These last few weeks, my resolution has been put to the test. Almost three weeks ago, my husband’s alternator went suddenly. One week later, we had a small house disaster where a skunk got under the floor of our house (under our bedroom!) and sprayed, in the end causing around $5000 worth in damages as we had to redo insulation, skirting, have the house professionally cleaned, dry cleaning for all our clothes, our mattress etc… We had insurance, but it was still financially and just physically stressful. And then, just yesterday, I got a phone call from my husband who was calling to tell me his truck had died on the way to town.
And, like always, my initial reaction was to want to cry, or scream, or get angry. The “Oh no’s, what are we going to do’s,” tried to rear their head. And yet, as I drove down to get him, peace and calm overtook my heart. I knew it would be okay. Instead of frantic, anxious thoughts, wondering what we were going to do, I was able to rationally analyze options. Whereas before the tough choices would have discouraged me, I was able to feel gratitude that we actually had options. Maybe not easy ones, but they’re there. If we have to we can become a one vehicle household, if we have to borrow money, we will; I can always try and pick up more hours at my waitressing job that I do on Sunday afternoons. It might mean sacrificing my Saturday evenings with my husband for awhile, but if it enables to me to stay at home with the children, and continue their homeschooling and therapy at home, it is well worth it.
In the end, I was filled with calm, resting in the knowledge that God will provide, He always has, and always will. And, I was so thankful for the fact that I could feel His presence so clearly among our trouble, helping me to fight those feelings of discouragement. How can we not be grateful in the knowledge that He is there, always there, with us, even in the trenches of everyday life?
By the time I reached my husband, we were laughing about the latest calamity. Oh, that’s not to say it’s not frustrating, because it is. And that’s not to say that it’s not going to be a financial hardship, because it is. I can assure you that Christmas will not be spectacular this year, and many gifts will be homemade. But – they will be given from a joyful, and grateful heart.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
1 Corinthians 10:13
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.*
[*In Greek, temptation can also mean testing]
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.